RGSSA Library Catalogue

Monday 25 May 2015

Discovering Asia: The East Indies Opened Up To Colonial Expansion

The East Indies Opened Up to Colonial Expansion

In the preceding blogs we’ve seen how the Dutchman Jan Huyghen van Linschoten broke the 16th-century Portuguese monopoly on the hugely lucrative East Indian spice trade by illicitly copying and publishing their route maps (“rutters”). By the turn of the century the Dutch had already sent out the important expeditions of Houtman and Van Neck to find the Spice Islands of Indonesia and their aromatic produce—which Van Neck did with spectacular success.

Unfortunately for the Portuguese, their spice trading monopoly was not well defended on the ground, and so they fell easy prey to the marauding Dutch and after them, the other Europeans. 

A look at the map will show us why the Portuguese, sure of their monopoly, never established firm control in Indonesia. It would have taken a considerable and sustained effort. The Moluccas (modern Maluku) actually comprise several groups of islands, widely scattered over a very large area, and a long way distant from the chief trading ports of Banten, up at the northern end of Java (near modern Jakarta) and Malacca, in northern Malaysia.

The Portuguese did establish a fort on Ambon Island (“Amboyna” or “Amboina”), one of the main sources of cloves, westerly within the Moluccas, but as we shall see, it was not well defended. Tidore, together with its neighbouring islands of Ternate and Makian (or Makean), other sources of cloves, are much further north within the widely scattered Moluccas.

The Banda Islands, the group of tiny islands where the nutmeg trees grew, were never occupied by the Portuguese. Although the histories often talk about them in conjunction with the other spice islands, in fact the little group is quite isolated, in the south of the Moluccas, quite a long way from the other spice islands. It is not unusual for the contemporary accounts to use the term “Moluccas” to mean the other islands but not the Bandas. The Portuguese made several visits to the Bandas during the 16th century and in 1529 even considered establishing a fort on the main island, Banda Neira (or Bandaneira), which would give them control of the island group, as five of the islands were within gunshot of each other. This attempt was abandoned because of Bandanese hostility, and the Portuguese settled for buying their nutmegs and mace from other trading ports. 

There was, then, plenty of room, both geographically and commercially, for competitors to stake claims in the Spice Islands.

Once Linschoten’s works had been translated into English and French, which they very speedily were, ships from England and France began heading east via the Cape of Good Hope after a share of the spice trade. The exact geographical position of the Moluccas with regard to the “line of demarcation” between Spanish and Portuguese territory was unclear, so the Spanish also headed for the Spice Islands in the hope of gaining territory and trading advantages there. 

James Lancaster (d.1618)—Sir James, as the privateer would become—made his first voyage to the East Indies from 1591 to 1594. He reached Penang in the Malay Peninsula, basing himself there for several months, pillaging every vessel he encountered. The return voyage was disastrous: only twenty-five of the ships’ complement reached England. However, he had shown that English vessels could take the Portuguese route, just as the Dutch had. 

The RGSSA’s collection includes accounts of both this first voyage and Lancaster’s later travels. Notably, the Society holds Richard Hakluyt’s publication of the account of Lancaster’s first voyage to the East Indies in the 1590s, in his highly important compilation of English voyages known as the “Principall Navigations.” 

Lancaster: Early texts
“Memorable Voyage about the Cape of Buona Esperanza, along the Easteme Coast of Africa, beyond Cape Comori, as far as the mains land of Malacca, and thence home again, begun 1591” (Vol. II., Part II, 1599, page 102), In:

HAKLUYT, Richard, 1552?-1616.
    [Principall navigations, voiages, and discoveries of the English nation]
    The principal nauigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English nation: made by sea or ouerland, to the remote and farthest distant quarters of the earth, at any time within the compasse of these 1600 yeres, diuided into three seuerall volumes, according to the positions of the regions, whereunto they were directed. Imprinted at London By George Bishop, Ralph Newberie, and Robert Barker, anno 1599-1600. 3 vols. bound in 2.
    (York Gate Library 2061-2064)

Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations is a seminal work in the history of European exploration, providing almost everything known about the early English voyages to North America and elsewhere, and serving as a vital source to both explorers and scholars for centuries after its publication. The work ran through several editions in the late 16th century, with additions, deletions and alterations. 

The Royal Geographical Society of South Australia also holds the 1589 edition (STC 12625), which must have been acquired by W.S. Silver later in life, as it is not listed in the Catalogue of his York Gate Library.

In addition to the important compilations already mentioned in the blog posts on the European discovery of Asia, other works on the history of European discovery of Asia were already being published by the beginning of the 17th century. Many of these works were written not only to record the voyages and discoveries but also to encourage further exploration by the countries in which they were published.
The Spanish, who were by now established in Manila in the Philippines, were also vitally interested in the Spice Islands, as Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola’s Conquista de las Islas Molucas (1609) indicates. The RGSSA Library holds an early 18th-century translation of this work: 
Leonardo de Argensola, Bartolomé Juan, 1562-1631
    The discovery and conquest of the Molucco and Philippine islands: containing their history, ancient and modern, natural and political: their description, product, religion government, laws, languages, customs, manners, habits, shape, and inclinations of the natives. With an account of many other adjacent islands, and several remarkable voyages through the streights of Magellan, and in other parts. Written in Spanish by Bartholomew Leonardo de Argensola ... Now translated into English. London, printed in the year 1708.
    (York Gate Library 4429)

Competition for the East Indies: Arrival of the Companies
With the prospect of direct trade with the spice trading centres of the East at the beginning of the 17th century, the expanding European middle classes initiated the great trading companies, the East India Company and the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC).

When we read the contemporary accounts of early voyages to Asia we need to understand the meaning of the words “company” and “factory”. The trading company or corporation as we know it did not exist in the 16th century. “Company” and “companies” occur frequently in 16th- and early 17th-century texts, but the terms refer only to ad hoc groups formed for a one-voyage venture. Similarly, a “factory” was not a place where goods were manufactured, as it is today (the early word was “manufactory”). It was simply a trading post.

The first organisation which resembled the modern corporation was the East India Company, formed in 1600 by various English adventuring and trading interests in an effort to combine forces, particularly against the Dutch and Portuguese, and become an effective permanent commercial enterprise. The formation of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) by a similar group of Dutch merchants, frightened by the prospect of a powerful English trading body, rapidly followed in 1602.

Both of these companies were to grow into what today we would call huge multinationals, with immense wealth and power. Both maintained armies and fleets of armed ships. The English company, the East India Company, ended up as legal ruler of the huge area of British India right into the middle of the 19th century. The VOC’s wealth and power resulted in the Dutch creating the colony of the Dutch East Indies, which lasted into the mid-20th century, falling to the Japanese during World War II and becoming modern Indonesia from 1945.

During the earlier part of the 17th century the VOC dispatched a large number of armed fleets to the East Indies in an endeavour to establish permanent trading posts. It was the beginning of their huge trading empire. Many of these ventures are described in general histories of the Dutch conquests in Asia. In addition, the RGSSA’s significant early texts include contemporary versions of both the Dutch and English ventures.

The East India Company formed by the English quickly sent out expeditions to the islands of Indonesia. The first of their fleets was led by James Lancaster, whose earlier voyage to the East Indies was an important influence on the founding of the East India Company. On his return from a successful privateering expedition to Brazil the newly formed East India Company selected him to command its first East Indies fleet.

Boom! Boom! Boom! The English Have Arrived!
He sailed aboard the Red Dragon (typically referred to simply as the Dragon in the contemporary narratives), rounded the Cape of Good Hope and crossed the Indian Ocean to Aceh in Sumatra (June 1602), then sailing down the coast to Banten (“Bantam”) in northern Java, where he announced his arrival with a mighty blast from his ship’s guns.

This trip allowed Lancaster to exercise his considerable diplomatic skills: he made an alliance with Aceh, and established the first English East India Company “factory” at Banten, the capital of the Sultanate of Banten. This trading post became the centre of English trade in Indonesia until 1682.

With a fast and untroubled return voyage, Lancaster was back in England in September 1603 with a good cargo. He was rewarded with a knighthood from the newly crowned James I in October 1603. He continued as one of the chief directors of the East India Company until his death in June 1618.

The RGSSA’s collection includes Purchas’s account from Hakluytus posthumus of Lancaster’s voyage to the East Indies for the East India Company:

Lancaster: Early texts
“The first Voyage made to East-India by Master Iames Lancaster, now Knight, for the Merchants of London, Anno 1600. With foure tall Shippes, (to wit) the Dragon, the Hector, the Ascension and Susan, an a Victualler called the Guest (Vol. I, Book 3, page 147-164), In:

PURCHAS, Samuel, 1577?-1626.
Haklvytvs posthumus, or, Pvrchas his Pilgrimes: contayning a history of the world, in sea voyages, & lande-trauells by Englishmen and others, wherein Gods wonders in nature & prouidence, the actes, arts, varieties & vanities of men, w[i]th a world of the worlds rarities are by a world of eyewitnesse-authors related to the world, some left written by Mr. Hakluyt at his death, more since added, his also perused, & perfected, all examined, abreuiated, illustrated w[i]th notes, enlarged w[i]th discourses, adorned w[i]th pictures, and expressed in mapps, in fower parts, each containing fiue bookes; by Samvel Pvrchas, B.D. Imprinted at London for Henry Fetherston at ye signe of the rose in Pauls Churchyard, 1625. 4 vols.
    (York Gate Library 2071-2076)
(Title from engraved title page. Each of the 4 parts also has a special title page with title: Pvrchas his Pilgrimes; and with imprint: London, Printed by William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone ... 1625.)

Lancaster: Translations, Reprints & Facsimiles of Early Texts
The Hakluyt Society’s 19th-century publication includes both Lancaster’s first East Indian voyage and the voyage for the East India Company:

Markham, Clements R. (Clements Robert), Sir, 1830-1916 (editor)
    The Voyages of Sir James Lancaster, Kt., to the East Indies: with abstracts of journals of voyages to the East Indies, during the seventeenth century, preserved in the India Office: and the voyage of Captain John Knight (1606), to seek the North-West Passage. London, Hakluyt Society, 1877. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society ; no. 56)
    (York Gate Library 2169)

A second East India Company expedition was quickly dispatched to the Spice Islands by the English. In command was Henry Middleton (1570-1613), an English explorer and merchant trader.

Corney, Bolton, 1784-1870 (editor)
    The voyage of Sir Henry Middleton to Bantam and the Maluco Islands: being the second voyage set forth by the governor and company of merchants of London trading into the East-Indies. London, Hakluyt Society, 1855. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society ; no. 19)
    (York Gate Library 2131)

Facsimile of original title page
The “Maluco Islands” are of course the Moluccas. Middleton visited the clove islands of Ambon, Ternate and Tidore in 1604. The volume is a republication of the 1606 edition of The Last East-Indian Voyage (“last” meaning latest).The author of this anonymous account is unknown. The trip, in which Middleton is referred to as the admiral, is relatively uneventful until they leave Banten, where they must have drunk polluted water (one of the footnotes tells us that the Dutch had learned from bitter experience to avoid it). The voyage from northern Java to “Amboina” (Ambon) in the Moluccas is a litany of misery: name after name is given as having “died of the flux”—presumably dysentery.

          VAN DER HAGEN
In late 1603 Stephen van der Hagen (1563?-1624) became the Dutch East India Company’s first fleet admiral. A temperate man, Van der Hagen protested against the harsh conduct of the Dutch in the East Indies, chasing a monopoly on the clove trade and willing to fight for it against any Portuguese, Spanish, English or Asian competitors. He wrote with disapproval of the VOC’s mistreatment of the people of the Moluccas and disregard of their local laws, arguing that the Company had no right to compel them to sell their spices exclusively to them without proper compensation. He also saw the inadvisability of fighting the English in particular, for fear of repercussions back in Europe.

Van der Hagen sailed first to India by way of the Cape of Good Hope and then, after various adventures on the subcontinent, reached Banten in December 1604, and sailed on to Ambon Island, the most southerly of the clove islands of the Moluccas.

In 1605 he captured the Portuguese fort at Ambon without opposition. It was the first territory officially captured by the Dutch in Southeast Asia. Ambon would be the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company from 1610 to 1619 until the founding of Batavia (now Jakarta) by the Dutch.

Van der Hagen: Early Texts
BRY, Johann Theodor de, 1561-1623?
    [India Orientalis. Pt. 8. Latin]
    Indiae Orientalis pars octava: navigationes qvinqve, primam, à Iacobo Neccio, ab Anno 1600. vsque ad Annum 1603. Secundam, à Iohanne Hermanno de Bree, ab Anno. 1602 vsqz ad Annum 1604. Tertiam, à Cornelio Nicolai, annis quatuor. Quartam, à Cornelio de Vena, duobus annis. Quintam, sub Stephano de Hagen tribus annis, in Indiam orientalem susceptas & peractas continens ... Auctore M. Gotardo Arthvs Dantiscano. Omnia elegantissimis in aes incisis illustrata & in lucem emissa per Ioannem Theodorvm & Ioannem Israelem de Bry, fratres Germanos. Francoforti, [s.n.] 1607.
     (York Gate Library 2050)

This volume in the De Bry set of India Orientalis deals with several Dutch voyages to the East Indies. It contains an account of the second voyage (1604-5) of Stephen van der Hagen in addition to Van Neck’s second voyage and the voyages of Cornelius Nicolai (i.e. Cornelis Claesz, 1546?-1609), Wijbrant van Warwyck (1569?-1615) and Sebald de Weert, and Jan Harmensz. van Bree (d.1604) and Cornelis van de Venne (or Cornelius van Veen).

In the next blog entry on the RGSSA’s early travel narratives about the European discovery of Asia we’ll look at the great company, the Dutch East India Company (VOC), and how, in common with other European colonial rulers such as the British and Portuguese, it abused its power in the East Indies, considering nothing but gain.

This post was researched and created by Kathy Boyes 

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